Past Perfect by Stephen Mitchell

A book review by Kasia Waldegrave

This sixty three page booklet aims to liberate the reader “from perfection in life and faith”.
Its thesis is a sustained attack on the idea of absolute perfection.
Our present understanding of perfection is very different from that of the past where a shift in our thinking renders the term perfect redundant and demands a revision of our theology.
Starting with the idea that perfection permeates everywhere films, advertising, conversations and language itself, has deep roots in the beginnings of our civilization, it goes on to look at the notions of the perfect day, beauty, the world and humanity. From there it looks at goodness, love and place or utopia ending with the perfect death.
Mitchel points out that the exclamation “Wow that’s simply Perfect!” at the point when one receives a gift derives from the Greek word telieos. The act is complete and achieves its goal.  It’s the complete package we won’t find better.  But the idea of perfection is relative and while something may be perfect for one it might be totally inappropriate for another.
Indeed if we apply ourselves to this thoughtful and thorough look at the concept of perfection even for a few hours, for that’s all it might take to read, it will satisfy the intellect and allow us to sigh deeply and immerse ourselves in our humanity awhile.  Our demands for perfection may have increased and we’ve suffered as a result from regret, missed opportunities and feelings of inadequacy but this booklet will free us to go gently….
This is a booklet which would provide a satisfying read in the sun during the forthcoming Christmas holiday and if you want, a starting point for a thoroughly good sermon or two.

PS I would also recommend “The Paradox of Choice: why more is less” by Barry Schwartz which deals with the issue of perfection in a different but no less satisfying manner.



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